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What is Haphephobia?

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/22/2010

Although many phobias have rather unusual, silly-sounding names, the fear and anxiety they cause in those who actually have them is anything but amusing. Haphephobia certainly isn't a name that is easily identifiable but we'll explain what it is, the symptoms, and the treatment options available.

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    Definition

    Haphephobia is an anxiety causing fear that can greatly interfere with the person's life who has it. It’s not half of a phobia, despite what it sounds like; it’s a full blown abnormal, yet palpable, dread. By its definition, a phobia is a specific type of anxiety disorder that causes an over-exaggerated and largely irrational response to the presence or even the thought of the thing that is feared.

    In this case, haphephobia refers to the fear of being touched. It might also be referred to as Aphephobia or Thixophobia. The anxiety response can be rather poignant and the person with it exhibits an intense dread of touching or being touched. If it goes on unchecked, it could lead to someone avoiding all sorts of situations because they don’t want to risk having that extreme anxiety response that others won’t understand. Succumbing to this trepidation can lead to a life of missing out on otherwise fun, fulfilling, or rewarding experiences. Doraphobia is curiously similar, in some respects, to haphephobia. You can read about that in this article about the fear of touching animal skin or fur known as doraphobia.

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    Causes

    As with most phobias, real-life trauma (an external event) took place at some point in the person’s life (probably in their youth) to trigger the exaggerated response. Since the human brain is largely busy making associations for the duration of its life, it's reasonably certain that touching or being touched is associated with something extremely unpleasant in the mind of the haphephobic. They could be the victim of a horrific rape, assault, or molestation which unequivocally warrants a fear of being touched. In some cases, it might be a response that was imitated because a key adult in a child's life was seen to react with disgust or great fear when touched. It could be a matter of a person wanting plenty of personal space and feeling acutely violated when someone doesn’t respect that. We see that in some autistics. As is always the case in the murky waters of phobias, the cause might not be easily identifiable.

    As far as the fear of touching someone else is concerned, it may be that something triggered a belief that there is a negative result (disease or illness perhaps) when you touch someone.

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    Symptoms

    When confronted with a situation where touching might be an issue, there are many varied response the haphephobic might have. Reactions and behaviors will differ on a case by case basis, but could include any of the following:

    • Discomfort and Perspiration
    • Nausea
    • Heart Palpitations
    • Dry Mouth
    • Feeling Dizzy
    • Rapid Heartbeat
    • Panic
    • Numbness
    • Heightened Senses
    • Breathlessness
    • Feeling Trapped
    • Muscle Tension, Rigidity
    • Trembling
    • Hyperventilating
    • Feeling Totally Out of Control
    • Feeling of Impending Doom or Disaster
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    Treatment Options and Online Information and Coping Forums

    Haphephobia Most people identify this disorder themselves because they realize that it's abnormal. After speaking with a primary physician and ruling out other causes, a mental health professional can recommend options for treatment which include:

    • Counseling (talking with a therapist who specializes in dealing with and overcoming phobias)
    • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
    • Exposure Therapy (gradually and incrementally being exposed to touching until fear is gone)
    • Support Groups
    • Learning Relaxation Techniques
    • Anti-Anxiety Medication

    The many resources available on the Internet are also a great way to learn how to cope with this disorder. Forums bring together people who have haphephobia to share their experiences in managing and even overcoming it. One such forum where you might learn about what works and what doesn’t (bear in mind that one method might work for one person and not the other so take the best and leave the rest) is at experience project.

    As you see, there are plenty of options available for the person suffering from this rare disorder and wishing to manage or perhaps even overcome it altogether.

    Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Team_touching_hands.jpg

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    References

    Helpguide.org: Phobias and Fears: http://helpguide.org/mental/phobia_symptoms_types_treatment.htm

    Phobia Fear Release: http://www.phobia-fear-release.com/doraphobia.html

    Psych Central.com